“Was it a deliberate act to remove women from history?” Artist Jane Fairhurst talks to Northern Soul
Artist Jane Fairhurst has been making art, exhibiting and curating exhibitions for more than three decades. She attended Liverpool School of Art at 18 and later gained a Master’s degree at Liverpool John Moores University in 2010. Fairhurst works across a range of media including textile sculptures, painting, drawing, mixed-media and installation from her studio at Cross Street Arts in Wigan.
Here, Northern Soul chats to Fairhurst about ‘forgotten’ women artists and finding inspiration.
Northern Soul: I first met you four years ago at a series of talks, Seventeen Artists (who happen to be women) by art historian Sara Riccardi, which was in response to your artwork – a pillowcase embroidered with the names of female artists from throughout history. Can you tell us how this came about?
Jane Fairhurst: Twenty years ago, an older male artist told me that women artists could never be as good as male artists. Incensed, I told him this was nonsense but then he challenged me to name ten female artists and I couldn’t. My art education in the 60s and 70s hadn’t included any female artists at school and art college. Female artists were never mentioned. I set about researching the subject and what a bountiful journey it turned out to be. I learned of so many wonderful artists and wondered why they’d been ‘forgotten’ or was it a deliberate act to remove women from history?
This became the theme of my solo exhibition, The Transit of Venus in 2017/2018 at The Old Courts, Wigan, and I began to embroider the names of as many female artists as I could find from Ancient Greece to 21st century. Sara Riccardi came to see the exhibition and was surprised to learn of so many female artists that even she, as an art historian, had never learned about. Later we met in my studio and hatched a plan for a series of talks.
I presented my story as the 17th artist. It was at one of these talks that we first met. The 17 artists were: Hildegard of Bingen, Sofonisba Anguissola, Artimisia Gentileschi, Judith Leyster, Maria Sybylla Merian, Luisa Ignacia Roldan, Rachel Ruysch, Rosalba Carriera, Angelica Kauffman, Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun, Rosa Bonheur, Elizabeth Thompson, Mary Cassat, Berthe Morisot, Edmonia Lewis, Louise Bourgeois, Jane Fairhurst.
JF: Through my research, I discovered all the early technologies that women are responsible for and wrote an essay to accompany that exhibition entitled Women, Early Technologists.
Women, I discovered, were most probably responsible for pottery making, basket, net and rope making, weaving, beer and bread making and gardening as well as technologies associated with gathering, storing, food production and clothing.
Small scale production later turned into mass production and, as businesses grew and merged into conglomerates, people were exploited more and more, leading to disastrous 21st century predicaments of global instability, over exploitation of natural resources and climate catastrophes. This led to my creating Fetishes for Uncertain Times based upon ‘objects of agency’ – amulets, talismans and fetish objects which have been part of my installation at 285 Deansgate in Manchester.
NS: These amulets and fetishes are soft sculptures made from fabric and sewn with embroidery and objects such as buttons. How did you arrive at this way of making these objects?
JF: It was one of those moments when a series of ideas came together, the moment of inspiration. Some years ago, I saw Pincushion for a Fetish, one of Dorothea Tanning’s textile works at Tate Liverpool. I was really struck by its tactile nature, odd shape and size, not at all like a pincushion.
When I began researching ‘objects of agency’ and magical objects, I found the principles of amulets as protective objects were all developed to avert the ‘evil eye’. Asymmetrically sewn fabrics, shiny objects, coins and buttons, wavy lines, dots were sewn into clothing as protection from the many ills that beset humans.
In the past, people used amulets, talismans and fetish objects to protect themselves from things more powerful than themselves. I too resorted to create my textiles as power objects in response to unsettling global politics and increasing climate change that I am otherwise powerless to affect.
I chose the metal stands, commissioned from a local blacksmith, to elevate the textiles and give them a human scale.
JF: I have been concentrating on developing my painting skills. That’s not say that I won’t work with textiles again. In May 2021, I started a series of paintings of my garden through the seasons aiming to capture the Genius Loci or spirit of the place. It’s an old garden and has a distinctly ‘out of time’ atmosphere.
A small series of oil on canvas paintings is also underway for an exhibition based on ideas from Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass. These are developed from images of my garden pond as a portal, looking at reflected images, on the surface and beneath the water at the same time. This work will be going into a group exhibition with the Bolder collective of artists at The World of Glass in St Helens from March 26 until May 20, 2022.
Main image: Jane Fairhurst
Her upcoming exhibitions are with the Bolder collective at World of Glass in St Helens from March 26 to May 20, 2022 and she will also be showing some of her paintings at Eden Gallery’s spring exhibition in Ormskirk and at Saul Hay Gallery in Manchester.
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